Hannah Adams: Contribution as American Historian & Writer

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      Hannah Adams (1755-1831) American writer, historian. Considered the first professional American writer Hannah grew up in Medfield, Massachusetts, and came to her scholarship through economic necessity and intense curiosity. Educated at home because of poor health and her father's financial difficulties, Adams read every book in her father's library and even learned Greek and Latin from the occasional boarders her father took in. During the Revolutionary War, she helped support her family by making lace and tutoring, but also began laboriously researching theology and history.

      For a long time the only woman allowed in the Boston Athenaeum, she was so intense in her studies that the librarian claimed he often could not induce her to leave during his lunch hour. Adams's first book, A Compendium of the Various Sects Which Have Appeared From the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Present Day (1784), was her answer to Broughton's terribly biased Dictionary of Religions. Adams's book sold out its subscription list, but her contract returned most of the money to her publisher. Subsequent editions, printed under shrewder contracts, increased her income and allowed her to compile several expanded editions. Research for her Summary History of New England (1799) was so demanding that it caused her temporary blindness.

      The volume was a comprehensive history from the Mayflower to the Constitution, which she was in the process of abridging as a textbook for sale to schools when Jedidiah Morse published his own text book version. The result was a ten-year litigation, with heated theological and philosophical battles, which ended in 1814 in Adams's favor. Following The Truth and Excellence of the Christian Religion (1804), a series of portraits of exemplary Christian laymen, she published the sympathetic History of the Jews (1812). Her final work, Memoir (1832), was written to support her ailing younger sister.

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